Location: Biological Control of Pests Research
Project Number: 6066-42000-007-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated
Start Date: Dec 22, 2021
End Date: Dec 20, 2026
Objective 1: Optimize aerial and seed treatment application strategies for biological and chemical pest control agents for row crops such as corn, peanut, and soybean. Sub-objective 1.A: Managing aflatoxin in corn by biochar and non-toxigenic Aspergillus flavus. Sub-objective 1.B: Managing aflatoxins in peanut by biochar and non-toxigenic Aspergillus flavus. Sub-objective 1.C: Highly economical deployment of non-aflatoxigenic A. flavus for corn production in Guatemala. Sub-objective 1.D: Managing mycotoxin in soybean infected with charcoal rot disease caused by Macrophomina phaseolina. Objective 2: Utilize Aspergillus genomics for population studies, and improve risk models. Sub-objective 2.A: Genetic characterization of the A. flavus population within niches of the corn production ecosystem. Sub-objective 2.B: Improve emerging weather-based aflatoxin risk models with field level data of pathogen genotypes.
Mycotoxin contamination in row crops like corn, peanut and soybean contributes to significant economic losses for farmers and industry. Mycotoxin contamination (e.g., aflatoxins in corn and peanuts) poses substantial food and feed safety risks. The project goal is to continue work on reducing and managing major toxins in row crops by improving biological control and other methods using more effective formulations incorporating bioplastic and biochar. Bioplastic formulations for delivering biological agents will be refined to improve plant health by increasing fungal control and broadening to other plant diseases. Biochar seed coating formulations will also be developed with bioplastic that provide nutrients for plant seedlings, improve nutrient-holding capacity of soil, and prevent fungal pathogens from infecting seeds by binding substances needed for infection. Research will be expanded to Macrophomina phaseolina, a fungus which produces multiple mycotoxins (e.g., botryodiplodin, moniliformin, others) and causes significant yield losses in soybean and other row crops. Assays for routine laboratory use have been developed for M. phaseolina mycotoxins, which will be used to test soybean seeds harvested from infected plants to determine their impact on food and feed quality and safety. Knowledge of Aspergillus flavus population biology and aflatoxin risk models will be improved by exploring agroecosystems with high aflatoxin occurrence, including isolating non-aflatoxigenic A. flavus and field testing as regionally adapted biocontrol products for high stress environments. Atoxigenic fungi will also be evaluated for compatibility with seed-applied pesticides needed for improved yield with more economical deployment strategies. New formulations will be evaluated by mycotoxin analyses (ELISA, HPLC, LC-MS/MS) on plant samples with and without treatment. Mycotoxin control allows US farmers to grow non-toxic grains with improved quality, safety, and value, benefiting farmers and the public. Data obtained will enable optimization of industrial quality biological control delivery tools during the next five years, improving the efficiency and practicality of bioagent products in agriculture.